Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Pigs and pokes

An article on Nation.Cymru yesterday argued that independentistas who argue for a form of independence which involves remaining in the EU are in danger of alienating potential supporters who also support Brexit.  Put in such stark terms, the statement is unchallengeable; advocacy of a form of independence which is in any way predicated upon continued membership of the EU will undoubtedly prove unattractive to those who see the EU as some sort of evil foreign empire, and (in theory at least) it should be easier to gain a majority for independence if any and all such preconditions are removed.  Such an approach is not without its problems though.  Surely one of the lessons of the Brexit saga is that gaining a majority for a broad concept which can be interpreted in different ways by different people may be easier than getting a majority for a more specific proposal, but it merely kicks the can down the road.  It can actually end up making it harder, not easier, to define the ultimate destination, since it leaves everyone expecting ‘their’ version of the outcome to be delivered.
‘Independence’ will happen in a context, and that context will affect the meaning of the word ‘independence’ itself.  There is no absolute, context-free version of independence available to us and pretending there is in order to put together a majority in favour is misleading people.  As things stand today, there are three obvious potential contexts – and therefore meanings – of independence for Wales:
1.    Independence within the EU whilst the rest of the UK (essentially, England) also remains in the EU
2.    Independence within the EU whilst England is outside the EU
3.    Independence outside the EU with England also outside the EU.
In the first case, Wales would have the same degree of ‘independence’ as any other EU member state.  The same would also be true in the second case, but there would be a requirement for a customs and regulatory border between Wales and England.  And in the third case, our economy would inevitably be bound tightly to that of England; and Wales would, in effect, be bound to follow the English regulatory regime.  In theory, all of those are ‘independence’ as it is understood in the modern world.  The argument of Nation.Cymru is effectively that, if the concept is kept vague enough, supporters of all three can come together and vote for the concept, and that (to the extent that the choice would actually be in our own hands anyway) we only need to choose between them after the event.
But here’s the thing: whilst I would vote enthusiastically for the first, I’m not at all certain that I could vote for the second, and for establishing customs posts along the Welsh border, and nor am I convinced that a majority for such a proposal is attainable.  I’m not at all certain that the third is better than merely expanding the scope of devolution.  If a committed independentista like myself is doubtful, what chance persuading a majority?  Worse still – whilst leaving the nature of the result open to interpretation might well attract some voters, it could also put others off.
I’ve argued often enough in the past that asking independentistas to provide a detailed picture of a post-independence Wales is a silly question, because it depends on what sort of government we then elect and what policies that government follows.  That is not the same, though, as failing to define what we mean by independence and the context in which it happens, because if we don’t do that, we’re asking people to buy a pig in a poke.  And the last three years have shown us what can happen then.


Jonathan said...

"asking independentistas to provide a detailed picture of a post-independence Wales is a silly question, because it depends on what sort of government we then elect and what policies that government follows" I think you may have skipped a phase, Borthlas, which is why the problem looks insoluble. Let me try this...
Q- "what is your detailed picture of a post-independence Wales?" (Important Question, after all)
My Answer: "I have not got one yet. But if we hold a Wales Constitutional Convention we will get a clear FRAMEWORK." Not the elected government with its proposed laws. The Convention will, for example decide
- total Indy or some half-way like Dominion Status
- what we do with Queen, £, who will be entitled to vote
- Framework stuff like separation of powers, checks and balances: Elected Governor, bicameral legislature, Supreme Court of Wales. Standard off-the-peg stuff.
Q- "what sort of government will we get and what will be its context?"
My Answer - "we will agree our Framework. And they you can see what the various parties propose using the new known Wales Framework/context, and you vote to choose."
The point being that getting a proper framework will produce clarity and many better results. Historically, new democratic Constitutions produce a big uptick in national vitality. So a Convention is the answer to your logical and presentational difficulty, B.

John Dixon said...

I think we may simply be talking at cross purposes here - perhaps, on reflection, I didn't make the point clearly enough. The point that I was driving at was the difference between what an independent Wales might look like in constitutional terms and what it might look like in policy terms - things like the infamous and utterly stupid question about how many aircraft carriers Wales would have.

I agree that the framework can be worked out in advance, and that a constitutional convention is a way of doing that, although I'm not so convinced that a convention with the narrow remit of defining a framework for an independent Wales can precede the desire for independence. If constituted today, I suspect it would have to conisder wider questions, such as whether and how the union could be preserved...